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How a lazy media narrative has missed the boat on the NJ redistricting story

December 15th, 2018, 9:37am by Sam Wang

Much news coverage of the New Jersey redistricting amendment has characterized it as a Democratic power grab. But this is a lazy dependence on the national narrative of partisan warfare. Here in the Garden State, this is an intra-party squabble. Republicans are bystanders – and minorities are missing a chance at getting much-needed protection from the Supreme Court.

As fun as it is for the press to claim “both sides do it,” that’s actually not true in this case. In fact, there is so much confusion that proponents and opponents of the legislation are both citing Princeton Gerrymandering Project analysis – though in some cases, somewhat selectively.

There’s a wrong idea going around. The legislation *doesn’t* cement a Democratic advantage. Both parties can still gain an advantage, by persuading the independent commissioner to accept their plan.

This legislation is mostly not about partisanship. Instead, it is a power grab by the Democratic General Assembly – to take power away from Governor Murphy,  who is also a Democrat. The grab consists of changing the commission away from being appointed by the state parties and governor. Instead, commissioners will be appointed by legislative leaders.

The commission is currently half Democrats, half Republicans, plus an added independent tiebreaker appointed by the state Supreme Court. That’s the good part! The amendment doesn’t change that fact. But it also doesn’t do anything to mandate that competing plans from the two parties be closer together. It’s a lost opportunity.

Much of what has appeared in the news media about the mathematical formulas is wrong. Here’s a recent example by Mark Joseph Stern of Slate. As much as I generally like Stern’s work, there are some factual issues with this particular piece. He’s not alone.

Here is a quick FAQ on what the legislation does and doesn’t do. [Read more →]

→ 3 CommentsTags: Redistricting

Virginia’s racial gerrymander: PGP’s amicus brief on the Special Master’s remedy

December 14th, 2018, 8:50am by Sam Wang

In the Bethune-Hill racial gerrymandering case, special master Bernard Grofman has submitted possible remedial plans to the federal court in his report and addendum.

Unusually, he has given the court a variety of choices. In these choices, the affected area, in southeast Virginia, is divided into four regions. In each region, Professor Grofman has given the court several options. We give you a visualization of several of the plans here.

Today the Princeton Gerrymandering Project submitted an amicus brief evaluating the various plans. We find that the combination which does the most effective job of remediating the racial bias is also the plan that makes the most changes. We say as much in our amicus brief (see PDF).

Comments Off on Virginia’s racial gerrymander: PGP’s amicus brief on the Special Master’s remedyTags: Redistricting

Fatal flaws in New Jersey’s redistricting “reform”

December 11th, 2018, 12:37pm by Sam Wang


The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has compared New Jersey’s redistricting legislation, S.C.R. 43/A.C.R. 205, to the current system that is already in place. We find that the proposed legislation would not improve quantitative measures of fairness. Furthermore, it opens the door to several forms of partisan and racial gerrymandering.

Here are the major points:

  • The formula (pseudo-“competitiveness” and partisan symmetry) still allows gerrymandering.
  • It gives partisans a way to fool the independent commissioner, and does not bring the parties closer together.
  • It does not guard against the single biggest threat to the Voting Rights Act.
  • A do-nothing bad bill forecloses the possibility of a better bill.

Details: [

Comments Off on Fatal flaws in New Jersey’s redistricting “reform”Tags: Redistricting

New Jersey redistricting legislation still allows Democratic and Republican gerrymanders

December 5th, 2018, 3:10pm by Sam Wang

As I wrote earlier this week, there’s been a lot of fuss – and some misinformation – concerning a proposed redistricting reform here in New Jersey. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has now analyzed the legislation, constitutional amendment S.C.R. 43/A.C.R. 205.

Will Adler, Ben Williams, and I find that the legislation still allows either party, Republican or Democrat, to commit a gerrymander. We show exactly how that would be done, and we list districts that would be affected by a partisan redrawing of the state legislative map.

We also describe amendments that would close these loopholes and create genuine reform. This morning, we sent our findings to two local legislators, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D) and State Senator Kip Bateman (R). Our analysis and recommendations are here as a PDF.

At the top of this post is a Republican gerrymander that is allowed under the legislation. Here is a Democratic gerrymander, also in compliance:

In these charts, each dot is one Senate district, color-coded by party (black indicates open seats freed up by throwing pairs of Democrats into the same district). The location of the dot is the natural partisan tendency of the district, as defined by statewide elections. The arrows include the advantage that individual incumbents bring to the table on top of that natural partisanship.

How can this be? It has to do with a weird definition of competitiveness, and limits on partisanship that don’t entirely make sense given New Jersey’s demographics. For details, see our memo.

Comments Off on New Jersey redistricting legislation still allows Democratic and Republican gerrymandersTags: Redistricting

What New Jersey’s Redistricting Amendment Does – And Doesn’t – Do

December 2nd, 2018, 9:42pm by Sam Wang

New Jersey has gotten into the mix with redistricting reform. A constitutional amendment has been introduced to change the rules for how districts will be drawn. Far from being a good-government bill, the proposed legislation is a recipe for volatility – and contains a loophole that would allow either party to commit an extreme gerrymander.

Last week, Senator Tom Kean Jr. (R) wrote an opinion piece decrying the legislation. He got some points right. For example, he’s correct that good-government groups, social justice groups and academics all have concerns about the bill. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s Ben Williams and Will Adler testified in Trenton at a hearing last week. Their entire statement is here.

However, Senator Kean is not quite right that it’s an effective power grab by Democrats. For that purpose, it’s poorly designed. Indeed, it has a loophole that could allow Republicans to commit a gerrymander against Democrats as early as 2021.

We’re currently preparing a deep-dive analysis of the legislation (Senate Concurrent Resolution 43 / Assembly Concurrent Resolution 205). Here are our central points:

  • The legislation doesn’t guarantee a Democratic advantage. But it does give cover to anyone who wants to commit a gerrymander, by providing standards that give the appearance of fairness.
  • Under this legislation, Democrats or Republicans could still draw lines to their advantage. We have examples that prove this. Either side would even have an argument to the independent tiebreaking commissioner that they were simply following the law to a maximum extent.
  • Gerrymanders can be camouflaged by calling close but reliable wins “competitive” – which is misleading. And close, reliable wins across the board are how a party cements an advantage for itself. Because the independent commissioner can pick either side’s map, it turns redistricting into a giant coin toss.
  • It creates incentives for either party to weaken all incumbents, including its own incumbents. They would be rewarded for taking risks in search of a big win. Some competition is good, but this legislation would reward volatility. For example, we have identified a list of districts whose Democratic incumbents would become pawns for their own party to push around, in search of a partisan advantage.

More than anything, this legislation is a missed opportunity. If it passes, it takes the place of genuinely good reform. And that’s a loss for all New Jerseyans.

Watch this space – and – for our later postings on this bill.

→ 2 CommentsTags: 2006 Elections · Redistricting

Princeton OpenDistricts announcement – live from Pennsylvania!

December 2nd, 2018, 8:00am by Sam Wang

Yesterday, FairDistrictsPA had a town hall on redistricting in Harrisburg. Lots of great people, with a focus on Pennsylvania. It was livestreamed – the whole event is available here, and my session will be here and is embedded above (I start at 36:09).

My panel featured FairDistrictsPA legislative director Pat Beaty, the Brennan Center for Justice’s Yurij Rudensky, and me. We talked about prospects for state-level action in Pennsylvania.

I talked about the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s mission: to use math, law, and data to help with fair districting. Fundamentally, we are translators and toolmakers. We work at the level of rules (lawmaking and courts) and transparency (open data and citizen redistricting).

I was especially pleased and excited to talk about OpenPrecincts, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project‘s approach to providing tools for all citizens to do high-quality, open-access redistricting. It’s not unlike what the good people at DrawTheLinesPA are doing, though our goal is to draw legal-quality maps and hit all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. We aim to get this done in time for 2021 redistricting cycle – and in certain key states, even sooner.

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Optimal Donations, 2018 (Runoff Edition)

November 24th, 2018, 8:42am by Sam Wang

Election season’s not quite over. We have two high-profile runoffs, one for Georgia Secretary of State and one for Mississippi U.S. Senate. In both cases, no candidate reached 50%, as required by state law there. Both races are highly consequential. Therefore the thermometer at left has been updated.

The Georgia Secretary of State race goes to a runoff on December 4th. This year’s general election in Georgia was filled with controversy, consequent to Secretary of State (and now Governor-elect) Brian Kemp’s aggressive voter-purge tactics. If even a small fraction of the 400,000 challenged and postcard-purged registrations were legitimate, that might have been enough to affect the gubernatorial election. The candidates are John Barrow (D) and Brad Raffensperger (R). The general election was Raffensperger 49.1%, Barrow 48.6%, Duval (L) 2.2%. 1.0%=39,000 votes.

This election is highly consequential for 2020 and 2022. The winner will administer elections – and voting rights – for 2020 and 2022. Georgia is a partisan trifecta – the governor’s mansion and legislature are under single-party control, in time for redistricting (sound familiar?). If the Republican, Raffensperger, wins as Secretary of State, that makes it a…quadrifecta, I guess…for individual and aggregate voting rights.

The Mississippi Senate race is very much in the news, with the election coming up this Tuesday, November 27. Like the Alabama special election in 2017 between Roy Moore (R) and Doug Jones (D), this race is a battle between the old South and the new South. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) said she’d “attend a public hanging” if a friend invited her; this is a phrase that was last used in the age of lynchings. Today it emerges that Hyde-Smith attended a “segregation academy,” one of many that were set up to help whites evade school desegregation. The Mississippi Legislature even handed out vouchers to whites to attend them. More recently, Hyde-Smith sent her daughter to attend one of these academies. The November election was Hyde-Smith 41.5%, Espy 40.6%, with most remaining votes going to another Republican. Turnout may matter on Tuesday.

The ActBlue thermometer at left has been updated to focus on Barrow and Espy. If you want to donate to Republicans, here are links to Hyde-Smith and to Raffensperger.

Comments Off on Optimal Donations, 2018 (Runoff Edition)Tags: 2018 Election · 2020 Election · Senate

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22nd, 2018, 12:42pm by Sam Wang

Dear readers, pardon the slowed rate of posting. We’re not going back into hibernation – we’re just resting. More is coming soon!

Traffic was substantially down this year compared with 2016 – by more than a factor of 10. That’s understandable for a variety of reasons, including our lighter posting regimen and the consequences of PEC’s general election calculations. But I will note that the most committed PEC readers stuck around. One measure is the comments, still solid. Another is the donation sites at left for ActBlue (D) and NRSC (R). The amount in the ActBlue is almost exactly equal* to the total in 2016, which was itself a record $362,590. In an off-year, that’s really incredible. The NRSC doesn’t have tracking – that would be interesting to see. I am thankful for your continued readership!

I am also thankful for the expanded interest in state-level action. State elections and ballot initiatives are a major part of U.S. democracy going forward. Witness the fact that we just saw redistricting reform pass in all four states where it was on the ballot (Utah just passed a few days ago), increases in the minimum wage in Missouri and Arkansas, and Medicaid expansion in half a dozen states around the country. It’s a remarkable flowering of the New Federalism.

All of this shows that we’re at some kind of pivot point in U.S. history. The current era started in the mid-1990s with Gingrich, and reached an extreme with the election of Trump. And now, the 2018 election gave a preview of what might happen next. Are we reliving the 1974 Watergate election? Are we reliving the end of the Gilded Age? The United States is going someplace new. I wonder where that is.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

*As of November 24, the 2018 total has now exceeded the 2016 total. One important note: in 2016 there were 1,600 donors. This year’s total has come from 1,137 donors so far.

→ 9 CommentsTags: Redistricting

Just Lines – a podcast about redistricting!

November 10th, 2018, 1:32am by Sam Wang

Nancy Palus, a freelance journalist with an impressive record covering democracy in developing countries, has decided to focus on elections in the United States. The result is Just Lines, a podcast with some pretty good guests so far – Katie Fahey of Voters Not Politicians, and redistricting guru Justin Levitt.

I joined her before Proposal 2 passed in her home state, Michigan. We got into many topics, including my thoughts about our second Gilded Age. It was a good episode – take a listen.

Transcript is here. A good excerpt after the jump: [Read more →]

→ 2 CommentsTags: Redistricting

Politics & Polls #114 – Valerie Jarrett

November 8th, 2018, 11:42pm by Sam Wang

Julian Zelizer and I talked with Valerie Jarrett the day after the election. Jarrett was President Barack Obama’s longest-serving policy adviser. She gave her take on political races in Texas, Georgia, and Florida. She also talked about what it was like to do a cameo on The Good Wife, and what it takes to succeed as a woman in a male-dominated office environment. It was a good interview! Listen to the new Politics & Polls.

Comments Off on Politics & Polls #114 – Valerie JarrettTags: 2018 Election